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Methods, methodology and madness: Digital records management in the Australian government

Katharine Stuart (Government Business Transformation, Department of Finance, Australian Government, Forrest, Australia)

Records Management Journal

ISSN: 0956-5698

Article publication date: 17 July 2017




This paper aims to present findings from a recent study examining current records management as fit for digital government in Australia.


This paper draws on findings from the first phase of research for a postdoctoral degree. This research was collected through an online quantitative survey of government records management professionals in Australia. The survey’s purpose was to understand whether the profession has kept pace with advances in, and expectations of, digital government. Building on the findings of the survey, this paper explores the concepts of methodology and methods and applies them to current digital records management in the Australian Government. Methodology for Australian Government digital records management is contained in the 2015 Digital Continuity 2020 policy. However, measuring method proved more difficult. The researcher supplemented data published by the National Archives of Australia and the Department of Finance with data from her own research to measure the validity of methods by examining suitability of current requirements.


Australian Government records management professionals overwhelmingly feel requirements, organisational culture and behaviour form a barrier to implementing successful records management programs. This paper finds that the Australian Government is buying ten times more digital storage per year than the sum of all of the digital Australian Government records known. This suggests perhaps not all records are recognised. While there will always be more storage than records, the ratio should not be so inflated. Further problems are found with requirements for records management being seen as mostly paper-based and too resource intensive to be of use. This research, combined with a contemporary literature review, shows that there is an imbalance with the current methodology and methods and asks the question: Has a methodology (Digital Continuity 2020) been created without suitable and known methods being in place?

Research limitations/implications

The method for collecting survey data was based on self-reporting, which can lead to limitations in that the population sample may exaggerate their response or demonstrate bias. However, responses to the survey were common enough to eliminate bias. The study is based on the Australian Government; however, findings may translate to other governments. This paper presents findings from the first phase of research of a postdoctoral degree. Not all findings are presented, only those relevant to the topic.


As the Australian Government moves to become a true digital government, records management is still required to ensure accountability of government actions and decisions. However, while the government transitions to digital, and information stores continue to grow, the question of whether records management has kept up with the rapid pace of digital information flow and expansion does not need to be asked. Instead, the time has come to ask, “What can we do to keep up?”



Stuart, K. (2017), "Methods, methodology and madness: Digital records management in the Australian government", Records Management Journal, Vol. 27 No. 2, pp. 223-232.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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